2004 Toyota Sienna CE
Click image to enlarge

by Paul Williams
Photos by Grant Yoxon

The idea of automobile executives test-driving current models to see what needs to be improved for future ones seems pretty obvious. Apparently it’s not commonplace, though. Toyota chief engineer Yuji Yokoya drove the previous generation Toyota Sienna minivan 80,000 kilometres throughout North America in one concentrated burst, after which he had a list of items to be added or changed for the new 2004 version.

Of course, automobile executives probably have more to do than spend four months cruising around North America, but from the consumer’s point of view, it may be time well spent. The 2004 Sienna arrives “fully sorted” as the British say. That means Toyota has attempted to address all the little (and big) things noted by Mr. Yokoya in the new van. The result is a practical vehicle that feels like its working with you, when you haul people and things around town, or around the country. It’s what you might call an FSV (family support vehicle).

1998 Toyota Sienna CE and 2004 Toyota Sienna CE
2004 Sienna CE with 1998 Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE
Click image to enlarge

The Sienna arrives in three levels of trim: the CE, LE and XLE. Our tester was a CE, but honestly, even this “base” model comes so well equipped it’s not like you feel at all disadvantaged by driving one. In fact, if you’re a value buyer, you can feel downright smug that you’ve got so much, and saved money, too. Each trim level can be ordered in seven or eight-passenger versions.

The CE is equipped with standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, dual-stage airbags and seat-belt pre-tensioners for the front seat occupants (the five centre and rear seat passengers all have three-point belts). Dual manual air conditioning is standard, as is the tilt and telescope steering column adjustment. All Siennas have dual rear sliding doors with a power window in each of them. There’s also keyless remote entry, power windows, AM/FM/CD/cassette player with six speakers, power and heated rear view mirrors, cruise control and retained accessory power.

Its chiselled, tidy styling is very reminiscent of the updated Toyota Echo, and is clearly related to the Camry. It looks, therefore, like a Toyota. The rear features numerous horizontal lines that make it appear shorter than it is. In appearance, the Sienna is not unusual or radical in any way.

On the road, the first thing you notice is that even though the Sienna is big, it doesn’t drive like it. The new 3.3-litre V6 makes 230 horsepower, which enables this van to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 8.6 seconds. This is sufficient for any kind of family-style vehicle, but impressive for a van with a curb weight of 1870 kilograms. What it means for the Sienna driver is that highway speeds can be achieved without difficulty, and normal passing is accomplished with power to spare. The five-speed automatic transmission permits the Sienna to cruise at low engine speeds, which contributes to a quiet ride and reasonable fuel economy.

Handling is completely car-like. The Sienna is nimble in the corners and it stops effortlessly. The turning circle is small, permitting excellent manoeuvrability. It certainly feels solid and planted on the highway, perhaps a result of its improved cross-wind stability, an area that was targeted in the new design.

On Mr. Yokoya’s trip, as much as he apparently liked seeing the sights, he got tired of stopping all the time for gas. So the new Sienna has a 79-litre fuel tank, good for an easy 900 highway kilometres (maybe more, with a light foot). Fuel consumption, by the way, is better than the previous model, which also contributes to its long cruising range

2004 Toyota Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE
Click image to enlarge

While you’re cruising, you won’t be short of room. The 2004 Sienna is longer, wider and taller than the previous model, and it rides on a longer wheelbase. Think of it this way: in eight-passenger models you can comfortably fit two average-sized Canadian families in a Sienna, plus a pair of DINKs (or equivalent).

You’ll find the interior is where this vehicle really works with you. In the seven-seat version, the two centre captain’s chairs provide a choice between sideways adjustment, tumbling out of the way into the floor, or easy removal. If the eight-seat configuration is chosen, the centre seat in the second row can be moved closer to the front seats, so that its occupant, perhaps a young child, is more easily reached.

The split rear bench seat can also tumble into the floor (called “flip and stow” seating by Toyota). It’s basically a one-hand operation where you pull a tab that pivots the seat, then push it and watch the seat tumble and disappear.

When all the seats are down, a flat floor is available to transport really large items, and yes, an 8’x4′ sheet of plywood will fit flat on the floor.

The entire interior is packed with handy stowage areas, from the bi-level glove box to sliding drawers in the centre stack, to map pockets, flip-up trays between the seats, a holder for your glasses and cubbies for your CD’s, cell phone and more. There’s even a conversation mirror so front seat occupants can keep track of activities immediately behind them. As you might expect, there are plenty of plus-size cup and bottle holders.

Instruments are large and clear, and controls are easy to identify and operate. The gearshift protrudes upwards from the bottom-third of the centre stack, from where it falls easily to hand, without intruding on useable space.

Many families will be quite happy with a $30,000 Sienna CE, but it’s in the LE and XLE versions that up to $22,000-worth of extras can be acquired. Wood trim, leather seating, DVD entertainment system, all-wheel drive, 17″ alloy wheels, power sliding and rear doors, JBL audio system, HID headlights, the list goes on. The Sienna XLE Limited tops out at $52,070.

In the 2004 Sienna, Toyota has created a serious contender in the “mini” (that adjective is becoming a real misnomer) van market. It will be strong competition for the Honda Odyssey and the new Nissan Quest, along with the popular Dodge Caravan line. Certainly everything’s moving large, and Toyota’s got that right. I’d like to see the side curtain airbags standard on all trim levels, though, and some kind of backup sensor to assist with tricky parking lot manoeuvers. Styling could be a bit bolder, but I suspect that potential buyers will be pleased with the new look.

As I say, it’s a family support vehicle. It’ll make itself right at home.

Technical Data: 2004 Toyota Sienna

Base price $30,000
Freight $1,260
Price as tested $31,260
Type 4-door, 7 passenger minivan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive (optional AWD)
Engine 3.3 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves, variable valve timing
Horsepower 230 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 242 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires P215/65R-16 all season
Wheelbase 3030 mm (119.3 in.)
Length 5080 mm (200.0 in.)
Width 1965 mm (77.4 in.)
Height 1750 mm (68.9 in.)
Towing capacity 1587 kg (3500 lb.)1587 kg (3500 lb.)
Cargo capacity 1240 litres (44 cu. ft.) behind 3rd row
  2680 litres (95 cu. ft.) behind 2nd row
  4220 litres (149 cu. ft.) behind 1st row
Fuel consumption City 12.2 l/100 km (23 mpg); Hwy 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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